Monday, October 10, 2022

Our Go-To Restaurants

Pre-COVID, we Minxes dined out at least once per week and sometimes 2-3 times if we were invited to restaurant events. Our regular night for dining out was Tuesday, the same day we did our grocery shopping. For the most part, it made sense to eat in restaurants that were close to grocery stores. The Weis Market in Towson Place (still Eudowood to me) is our favorite grocer, so we ended up at Red Robin entirely too often. Sometimes we would go to Spice and Dice for Thai food, or Gino's, and if we were especially tired of all of those places, we'd go to Glory Days Grill. Sometimes we'd go to a different grocery store because they all don't carry the same products at the same prices. Wegman's had a good by-the-pound buffet, so we ate and shopped in the same building. At other times, we'd go to ShopRite in Timonium, and we'd dine either at the Nautilus Diner, Il Basilico, or Yamato Sushi. Eventually, we soured on Yamato. While the fish was always fresh, the rolls were too large and seemed bland for the high price. We started going to Yama Sushi in Hampden/Roland Park/Whatever that area is called and consequently added the Giant in the same shopping center to our list of favorite stores.

in the car with the local bird from Ekiben

During the early days of COVID, we stopped dining out entirely. Our rare trips to the Weis Market were a quick in-and-out involving masks, rubber gloves, and lots of hand sanitizer. We ordered lots of carry-out and delivery from regular favorites Red Pepper, Kathmandu Kitchen, and Yama Sushi. We also discovered how delicious the burgers are at Alonso's, that giant fried chicken sandwiches from Ekiben taste just as good when eaten in the car, and that fries and wings from The Local Fry actually travel pretty well. Once summer hit and restaurants offered outdoor dining, we ate at La Cuchara as often as possible and celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary at a table in Petit Louis' parking lot. 

Now that things are pretty much back to "normal," except for the fact that there still is a pandemic going on, we're back to eating indoors on a weekly basis. We still don't go grocery shopping all that regularly, thanks to Amazon Fresh, but we do have a regular Saturday restaurant date. I do Whole30 off and on most of the year, which limits our restaurant choices. However, there are three places that are pretty safe for me, and we end up eating at them fairly frequently.

Lorenzo salad and wings @ Earth, Wood, & Fire

Earth, Wood, & Fire (1407 Clarkview Rd, Baltimore, MD 21209) serves one of our favorite pizzas in town, and they also have really good burgers (which are available on gluten-free buns). A pizza and a large Lorenzo salad (endive, arugula, grapes, macadamias, bleu cheese, in a lemon vinaigrette) constitutes our usual order, but on Whole30 days we each get an order of their spicy dry-rubbed wings in place of the pizza. To be honest, we can make the wings at home because I was able to cajole the recipe out of the chef, but we like the restaurant and want to continue to support them by eating there.

patty melt @ Nautilus Diner

Nautilus Diner (2047 York Rd, Timonium, MD 21093) has the typical huge diner menu with lots of carby breakfast options that aren't my thing even when I'm not dieting. I usually go for a slab of lasagna or moussaka, but now that I've discovered how good their patty melts are, my regular order may change. On diet days, however, I get a giant 3-egg omelet, with home fries, hold the toast. Broiled or roasted chicken--no stuffing, please!--is also a good choice, with a baked potato, veg of the day, and bonus cup of Maryland crab soup. Even I can't eat an entire half chicken, so there are plenty of leftovers to take home for a lunch later in the week.

chunky dunker oyster with watermelon mignonette @ True Chesapeake

As long as I stick to the oysters and other seafood items and stay away from the bread and other carb-laden goodies, I can have a fine meal at True Chesapeake. But why torture myself? Though we have gone there while dieting, it's more fun to go when I'm not. 

loaded yuca fries @ La Food Marketa

Another place I like when I'm on Whole30 is La Food Marketa (2620 Quarry Lake Dr, Baltimore, MD 21209). While I can't eat the tacos and such, I will get wings, brussels sprouts, and the loaded yuca fries. (Yes, some of those items have cheese on them, but it's my body, my diet so butt out.) The restaurant has a nice patio, so we tend to eat outdoors when we can. Neal is rather fond of their kobe beef hot dogs topped with street corn, and once in a while I order something different, like black bean soup. Those yuca fries are always on our table, however, no matter what else we get. 

beef kabobs and chicken fesenjan over tah dig @ Villagio Cafe

Most of our go-to restaurants are close by, no more than 10 miles in any direction. One, Villagio Cafe (6805 York Rd, Baltimore, MD 21212), is within walking distance. I think I've had lunch with friends at Villagio more often than Neal and I have eaten dinner there. It's never disappointing. My favorite is the un-lovely tah-dig topped with chicken fesenjan (crispy rice with a stew of walnuts and pomegranate with chicken), but I also enjoy their kebabs and lamb shank. Sometimes, when we want to feel young, we go to The Peppermill (1301 York Rd, Timonium, MD 21093), a restaurant that has been referred to as "God's waiting room." It's an old-fashioned sort of place with the kind of non-trendy comfort foods we grew up eating and where applesauce is considered a vegetable. But any place where I can get stewed tomatoes as a side and a hot fudge sundae or coconut cake for dessert is aces in my book. 

various maki and nigiri sushi @ Yama Sushi

Back to Yama Sushi (1030 W 41st St, Baltimore, MD 21211). I believe that maki rolls need to be small enough that I can fit an entire piece in my mouth without having to take a bite--2" in diameter at the very most, and that's pushing it. The rice of a piece of nigiri should be thumb sized, with the fish not much larger. Also, the rice should be fresh and not cold. Sadly, so many restaurants make giant rolls that are impossible to eat, and drape their nigiri with tablecloths of raw fish. The rice is either overcooked and sticky or cold and crumbly. Yama sushi is the optimal size and the rice is always perfect. Sometimes it's even a little warm. I appreciate an inventive roll, like their Red Devil, topped with lightly cooked, Cajun-spiced tuna, and the Christmas Tree, which wears a garland of seaweed salad. Not only is the food always very good, but the prices aren't astronomical and the service is pleasant. (We miss our regular pre-pandemic waitress who addressed us  as "honey" every time she came to the table.)

fish and chips and baby back ribs @ The Crackpot

Stalwart seafood restaurant The Crackpot (8102 Loch Raven Blvd, Towson, MD 21286) gets our business fairly regularly. It has recently come under new ownership and the menu has changed quite a bit. One can still get steamed crabs and a crabcake that weighs 23 ounces, but also chicken momo, veggie samosas, and chicken or beef tikka masala. I've always been fond of their baby back ribs, which are a bargain $12 on Mondays. I wasn't crazy about their crabcakes (which also came in a gluten-free version) and haven't tried them recently, though I'm curious to see what the new owners are doing with them. 

There are also a handful of go-to restaurants for when we're in a celebratory mood. We used to go to Cunningham's, but now that the restaurant is part of the Atlas Restaurant Group, they no longer get our business. Instead, we go to True Chesapeake, Cosima, or La Cuchara, all three of which were mentioned in a recent post. Others of our go-to dining spots that have also been named in prior posts: Red Pepper, Kung Fu 12, Asian Kebab and Hot Pot, and Il Basilico. Sometimes I think we should branch out and try other places, but to be very honest, we're quite happy with the selection of restaurants we currently visit. That's not to say that we haven't tried others--we have. But none of them have been worthy of adding to the list...though there is one we hope to visit again soon. More on that sometime in the future.

If anyone knows of a must-try restaurant in our general vicinity (Towson), please leave a comment!

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